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How to demo your project deliverables

What you need to know about your project supplier

In Memoriam: Wilhelm Kross

Get the most out of a conference (video)

How to handle out of hours work

How to demo your project deliverables

Categories: tips

Demos and prototypes save your project time and money because you can get early feedback. I’ve talked about that before (in this video) but a couple of people have asked me for some more tips around setting up demos. And I’m very happy to oblige.

Let’s get on with it then, shall we?

The demo environment

Pick a nice room. By that I mean one that is large enough to fit everyone in comfortably and that’s got enough power sockets. Everyone brings a device along these days and they all need plugging in.

Understand the room’s heating and lighting controls. You don’t want people getting fidgety because they forgot their jacket – you want them concentrating on your amazing project deliverable.

If you are doing your demo via a web conference, get the software set up well before you expect everyone else to join the call. Test your microphone and headset and make sure you can share control of the screen with your co-presenters, if you have any.

Set expectations

Manage the expectations of the people in the room. Are you showing them a very rough outline of a product, a prototype that doesn’t quite work properly yet, a feature-rich almost-finished product, or the final thing? Set their expectations around what they are going to see so they aren’t disappointed when features don’t work or when you tell them it’s too late to change the colour because you’ve already ordered 30,000 in blue.

Review your objectives

What is it that you want people to get out of this demo? You can organise a demo or show people a prototype for a number of reasons such as:

  • To get buy in for your proposal
  • To ensure you are on the right track
  • To get feedback
  • To confirm your understanding of requirements
  • To keep your stakeholders engaged on the project
  • To show someone a finished product prior to delivering testing on how to use it.

Think carefully about why you want to do this demo and what outputs you are expecting. Do your demo attendees have the same understanding as you? It’s worth running through the objectives at the start of the meeting, just in case they don’t.

Get organised

Practice, practice, practice. A complete dry run is a good idea. You want your audience to notice what you are saying, not get cut off halfway through your web conference because you don’t know how to use the meeting controls.

Walk through the demo in preparation, whether you are doing it in front of a ‘live’ audience or via a computer screen.

Prepare for questions

Be ready to answer questions. You are showing them your project deliverable in anticipation of some kind of feedback so expect them to have questions about what it does, how it does that and what else it could do. Be prepared to manage the ‘wouldn’t it be great if…’ type questions if you aren’t able to consider any modifications at this point.

Provide back up materials

Your demo attendees will hopefully be so excited about what you have built that they will want to share it with their teams. Have some materials ready so that they can do that: screenshots or handouts are great, but a test login (if software) or samples (if something else) and details of how to use it are better.

This gives them the chance to play with what you have created and if you want further feedback, let them know that you are open to their ideas and provide details of how to get them to you – direct contact, via an online request form or so on.

Demos and prototypes are a really powerful tool, especially if you are delivering a software product or a tangible item. End users particularly find this sort of workshop or meeting a very valuable session as they can see what they are getting. In my experience, showing someone a demo of your product helps build engagement too, as they start to get excited and they can see the idea become real.

However, make sure that if you are doing a demo that you are in a position to comment about when they are likely to get to access the final deliverable. There’s nothing worse than seeing a demo and getting excited about the project only to be told, or you can’t have it for 18 months. Set expectations carefully!

How have you used prototypes and demos? Let us know in the comments.

 

Elizabeth Harrin also blogs at A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.

Posted on: October 11, 2014 06:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What you need to know about your project supplier

Categories: procurement

When you are preparing to select a new supplier for your project you want to make sure that they are a good fit for you and your organisation. As well as the cost management aspects of getting a quote and setting up a procurement process to select a vendor, there are some other things to consider when you are making your final choice. These should all be part of your selection criteria – don’t forget that as well as technical requirements for your project you’re also ‘interviewing’ them to gain some confidence that they are actually going to work well with your existing project team.

So what do you need to know about your project supplier? Here are some things to consider.

Solvency

Solvency is important because you want to work with a business that is credible and stable. It’s not fun to be in a situation where you are halfway through a project and you find out that your supplier is on the verge of bankruptcy. Ask your finance or legal team to carry out their standard background checks on the businesses that you are considering working with (they should have access to the information to do this, although they might outsource the checks to a third party).

You’ll get back information about how the company has performed financially and whether or not it is considered a going concern. If you are at all bothered by the results, talk to the supplier. Some things could be explained away but if not, this simple solvency check will help you avoid a lot of problems in the future.

Size of business

How big is the company? It’s a very different experience working with a major multi-national to working with a small design studio that could essentially be one person working from their kitchen. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t engage small and independent firms, but be aware if you are doing so.

Taking on a big contract is also a risk for a small firm. If you decide not to continue to use them (say, after the project has finished) then they will lose a large deal and could potentially struggle. If you do need them for some kind of ongoing support then make this clear.

With a big company you could find the opposite: your project is so small in the grand scheme of things that you don’t get the customer service you expect because they don’t prioritise your problems.

Estimation techniques

Find out how they have prepared their estimates. There should be a list of assumptions somewhere in the proposal document. These should explicitly say if the proposal includes taxes and expenses. Some vendors will also expect per diems for their staff. This is a flat rate to cover the cost of working away from home or on a client site, and is supposed to be used to cover things like lunches, laundry, phone calls and so on. It’s paid directly to the staff member so it is different from expenses and often it’s explicitly excluded from a quoted price.

How do I know? I’ve been caught out with those before.

Working hours

The working hours are particularly relevant if you are working with international partners. They will have different national holidays to you so it’s worth finding out when they are. You can also write into your contract that you expect them to be available on all workings days in your country. Personally I think this is a bit mean and it’s nicer to be able to work around their availability rather than make them skip their local holidays, although I have seen it done.

You might also want to check what hours they are going to be available. While no one would expect the team in New Zealand to stay up all night in case someone calls, it is worth discussing what would happen if there was an urgent problem during your working hours and the overseas office was closed.

Staffing and experience

Talk to them about who is going to be allocated to your project. You’ll want confidence that the consultants they put forward have the relevant experience to be able to complete the work. Everyone, of course, needs to start somewhere and you may find that you also get less experienced contractors allocated to your account. That’s fine, as long as you know they are being adequately supported by more experienced colleagues. You’re paying for someone to do the job and provide expertise in a field that your own company doesn’t have. You’re not paying for someone to learn on the job.

While you are at it, get references of where they have delivered similar projects for other clients. They should be able to evidence the fact that they are experts in this area because that is what you are engaging them for. If they haven’t got a lot of experience in your sector but you still want to use them, talk to them about you can help them build their knowledge quickly.

What else do you consider when selecting and securing a third party to work on your projects? Let us know in the comments.

Posted on: October 11, 2014 05:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

In Memoriam: Wilhelm Kross

Categories: interviews

I was really sorry to read in PMI Today that Wilhelm Kross had passed away. He was kind enough to let me interview him only last year and I was impressed by the depth of his knowledge. His desire to improve things in project management came through really strongly and he was an active member of PMI as well.

He was a well-known and well-respected figure in project management and I know he'll be deeply missed.

 

You can read my interviews about risk management with him here and here.

Posted on: October 02, 2014 03:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Get the most out of a conference (video)

Categories: tips, video

In this video I share 4 tips to help you get the best out of attending a project management conference.
Posted on: September 26, 2014 08:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

How to handle out of hours work

Categories: team

Projects often require out of hours work. That means someone staying late or working over the weekend (or in other non-normal working time) to complete project tasks. It happens in many industries: in IT for example you can’t always make changes to systems during working hours as it stops the production system, so someone has to make those changes at night when the office is closed – and if they can’t be automated then it really does mean someone staying up to press a button.

I haven’t come across many project team members who are willing to work unsociable hours, unless they are getting paid a lot to do so. Therefore you have to handle the requirement for out of hours work sensitively as it does normally mean someone giving up their social and family time to do project work. Here are some guidelines for managing project tasks that have to happen out of hours.

Is it planned?

First, consider if the project task is planned. That could include:

  • Software installations or upgrades
  • Building work
  • Hardware upgrades like PC replacements or other kit
  • Networking and telephony project work

I’m sure you can think of other things relevant to your industries and projects that involve out of hours tasks.

If out of hours work can be planned, then it can be managed.

Provide lots of notice. The more notice people have, the easier it is for them to rearrange their other activities and tasks around this. No one likes to be told that they have to work out of hours at short notice (more on this later). Keep reminding them that the out of hours work is coming up and checking that it is still on their radar.

Arrange who is required. When work is out of hours it can be hard to call in a colleague if you have forgotten something. You can’t just dial up your mate at 3am and ask them to do something. So make sure you have lined up the right resources from the outset. This could involve you or a project team leader, the resource in question, technical or IT staff and someone from the vendor.

Check access. If you are going to site, make sure they remember you are coming and haven’t locked up. If you need access to a secure area, check that someone is available to let you in.

Check the facilities. Do they need to take their own food with them? The canteen on site closing at six isn’t going to be a problem for the normal staff, but if your project team goes on shift then and is planning to work through the night, make sure they’ve got the facilities to at least make themselves a cup of tea. If necessary, turn up yourself with cake – I have done this and it was really appreciated, even though I contributed very little to the actual project tasks in hand.

Arrange overtime payments. Let the individuals know how they will be compensated for working out of hours so there are no surprises. This could be overtime at time and a half or double time, or time off in lieu.

Is it an emergency?

Sometimes project work has to happen as a matter of urgency. Sometimes stuff happens that creates problems that have to be fixed immediately (like a technical failure in the middle of a training course) and that might mean calling someone in when they are supposed to be on leave or asking someone on a Friday afternoon to stay late and work all weekend. Because most project disasters happen on a Friday at 4pm, don’t they?

This type of out of hours work should be managed through your project issue management process.

Organise channels of communication. Make sure that the individuals know who to talk to and who they need to report to when the problem is fixed.

Appoint an issue owner. If you aren’t going to be managing this issue through to resolution, make sure you appoint someone else. Let everyone know who is the main point of contact for decisions, whether that is you or a colleague.

Deal with the problem. Do the work. Get the project back on track. Then fill in the issue log with the resolution and do any other project reporting that you have to and update your project plan.

Recognise the effort. Again, if you have had staff work out of hours in order to resolve a problem, look at how this can be rewarded and recognised. If you can, pay overtime for the hours worked. If you can’t, time off in lieu is normally at your discretion. Say thank you – they got you out of a hole.

Out of hours work is part of managing many projects and you can keep your team on side while you ask them to work unsociable hours for practically nothing. Keep cheerful, keep them cheerful and explain the benefits of the project over and over again. And above all, be grateful. Very few people have ‘must work overtime for project manager’ in their contract so recognise their commitment and thank them for their contribution to a successful project.

Posted on: September 23, 2014 11:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
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